Stephen Sondheim helps answer the Q “Why we do what we do.”
Writing theater, producing theater, acting in the theater, making costumes for the theater, ushering for the theater . . . none of it is easy. But this note from The Great Mr. S. and the accompanying letter he received that appeared in a recent edition of The Dramatist, (A publication of The Dramatist Guild), is a great reminder of exactly why we all got into this business, or why I did anyway.
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For those who wonder why we do what we do, I offer in evidence the following letter, written to the Cincinnati Playhouse by a man who won a promotional contest for John Doyle’s production of Merrily We Roll Along.
Paste it on your bathroom mirror to read whenever you lose heart.
Who says art is a luxury?
To just say thank you for the tickets to last night’s play could not convey my gratitude for the evening we had. I am not good with words or expressing myself but feel I need to let you know what your generosity in donating the tickets meant to my wife and me. When I received your email saying I had won them I had mixed emotions. I was happy to be able to give my wife a well-deserved night out, but never have attended a musical, I did not know if I really wanted to go. I knew my wife would probably enjoy it though so I agreed to come. We have been married for 27 years now and this was the second night we had out in the past twenty years. We just literally cannot afford nights like this. We do not dine out, go to movies, or do anything that requires extra money. We both work hard and have been at our jobs for years. It is just the past twenty years have brought such heartache and expense we have no disposable income. I have seen my wife lose three children through miscarriages and the pain and hurt caused, then we lost our home and all we own in a fire. We started over and in ’97 the flood came and the same month our youngest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. So with the expenses of rebuilding, over and over, the expenses of his medications and hospital bills we just have nothing extra for ourselves. I tell you this to just let you know that an evening like last night was something I have been unable to give my wife but was one that now I know I have to no matter what.
As a working man, I did not know if I would fit in, but was made to feel welcome by all involved. I always had thought why see a play just watch it on TV or see the movie. Well what I experienced last night changed my life. I want to experience it again and again. But more importantly for me was the impact it had on my wife. From the smile and the glow she had as she watched the play, to joy she had expressed in discussing the play, I saw something I had not seen my wife have in years…pure joy. No thoughts of our son’s pain at the moment, no hurtful memories of the things we have lost but just pure joy at the evening we had experienced. Our drive home and the hours talking through the night were the most enjoyable we have had in years.
So to just say thank you for an evening like this is not enough. To some it is just a few free tickets. To us, it will change our lives forever because as my wife say and asked, “Could we ever do this again?” then answered, “Well of course we could never afford it.” Not as quickly as she asked. I realized that no matter what, Playhouse in The Park will be a part of live for years to come. I will sacrifice my lunch every day until we can attend again. We need these moments of joy.
I know I rambled. I know this probably does not make much sense to you but I somehow wanted you to know that the tickets for us were much more than just another of many nights out on the town. It gave us an experience we will never forget. You allowed me to give my wife a night I could not have done without your generosity. I can never repay you for what you have given me. I wish I had the funds to donate but do not. But I am a hardworking man. If you can ever use someone to sweep floors, pick up trash, clean toilets, etc. I would gladly volunteer to give back to show my gratitude for what you have given me. Thank you.
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Pretty amazing stuff, right? To read some more amazing stuff from the genius brain of Mr. S. himself, check out the incredible Finishing The Hat (a must for any theater writer) or his bio. Both are some of my favorite reads.
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